Cavemen, God and Glooscap

 I have never been religious. As a matter of fact, I am a proud atheist. Our family never went to church, which was unusual in the very tiny community that I grew up in because it had two churches. I am sure that our family was the topic of discussion over many of the community dinner tables when I was a child. Not only for the lack of church attendance but also because we were a family where the kids didn’t all share the same last name. Table-talk fodder for sure. We were a family who were allowed to think for ourselves and inevitably make our own decisions.

In grade school, we started the mornings with bible stories, Cain and Abel (two brothers that made mine look like saints), Joseph and his coat of many colours, Adam and Eve; and I loved them all because I loved all stories. I was nine when we were also covering cavemen and the indigenous peoples in the afternoon; and when our teacher, during the fifteen minutes of the day allotted to read aloud to the class, introduced us to The Mi’kmaq Legends of Glooscap. Glooscap, the great chief and creator, made the world inhabitable by arranging the landforms and creating all the animals and birds from the dirt. I thought these legends were wonderful. They were about our area and the original people who inhabited it. I will tell you that I was enthralled by them. As an adult, after moving back to Nova Scotia, I purchased locally published books containing these legends .

The nine-year-old me, a quiet kid with a very active imagination, had cavemen–aided by colourful maps and photos and timelines from National Geographic, God and his son Jesus–the standard North American visual concepts of these, and Glooscap–the magnificent giant of the Mi’kmaq people, keeping me awake at night. Even though my family didn’t attend church, I had heard about God’s creation of man from the moment I started attending the rural school system. The details, repeated over and over, had no other option than to become embedded into my consciousness, no other option than to become fact because they were expected to become fact. I don’t know how she managed it but that teacher introduced her students to other options, which to me, because our family had no holy-ingrained-inflexible ideas, seemed just as viable.

I still think of this teacher because she probably wished that she had never ventured into these conflicting topics on the day that I asked her a question that was rattling around in my head along with God, Glooscap the some cavemen. It was a question that the two of us would remember forever. “If the cavemen were the first people on earth, who were Adam and Eve?”

As an adult looking back at this moment, I know I put the poor woman on the spot. Mrs. Hubley, who was set to retire the end of that year, didn’t quite know how to answer my question and was probably not satisfied with her answer; but given the classroom venue and the highly religious population, could only say so much. I recall the hesitation in her voice when she said these words, “I believe they were the first white people.” Even the nine-year-old me, knew there was something not right about this statement.

But doesn’t this statement say it all. Doesn’t it sum up the attitude of a privileged white population. A population who thought themselves as singled out from others for a better destiny. A powerful population who always thought of their God as the one and only rightful creator and had never been challenged on their beliefs. Whose to say that one belief is right and another is wrong? Who has the right to judge that one group of people deserve better treatment than another? Nobody, that’s who! But as we know, religious interpretation, like everything else, is very subjective. Those in charge of the situation make the interpretive rules. We only have to look in the history books to prove this point, and we don’t have to look very far back. In some cases we don’t have to look back at all. Just watch the news.

In light of the findings of hundreds of children buried in unmarked graves around residential schools here in Canada–schools funded by the government and run by the church, I ask again, what right did they have to do such things? Genocide is a strong word. As is hatred. But what else do you call this? I struggle with this because I have a big problem with hypocrites. I constantly hear people claiming that their religious group, the Catholic Church for one, is charitable and forgiving. Hell you can commit atrocities then repent on your deathbed and get into heaven. Your very own get-out-of-jail-free card. They claim that their God loves everyone. Tell that to the hundreds of children who died. And the hundreds of parents who never saw their children again. And to the survivors who were abused. To the thousands who lost their culture and the ability to live in a meaningful way. To the generations who didn’t know how to parent their own children because they couldn’t cope with the memories of their own childhood. The church has a lot of explaining and apologizing to do.

I may not be religious but I have values. Strong values, which is why I find this so difficult. I have read many indigenous-authored books and I have been aware of this tragic history through their stories and essays, how it underlines their existence and has forever challenged and changed them. But the details continue to get worse and only those who have survived really know. I cannot put myself in their shoes.

I feel shame over the recent residential school findings because I should, just like every other privileged-white-middle class Canadian should. For all the wrongs done to indigenous people by both the Canadian Government and the Church, I am sorry. Your lives are valued. Your history is real. Let it no longer be erased.

Thank you for reading.

Photo:  Glooscap – Wikipedia, 

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21 thoughts on “Cavemen, God and Glooscap

  1. Your post brings up lots of great points. I was raised Catholic, and I still occasionally attend mass, but I frequently wrestle with some of the same questions you raise. Covering up past misdeeds is taking hypocrisy to the max.

    As a teacher, I occasionally got religious questions from students. I wasn’t as brave as your teacher. I usually said something innocuous, such as people have different beliefs about this. On other occasions, I had students sometimes make religious proclamations (I’m sure most of the time this was from the indoctrination of their parents) on the playground, such as, “You’re going to hell if you don’t believe in God.” Not surprisingly, this led to some tears and upset feelings by others in the class.

    One time a parent came unglued and wrote me a scathing letter because I had supposedly told her daughter she could not say “Amen” at the end of the Pledge of Allegiance. That didn’t happen, but sometimes parents went to battle (I tried never to take the bait) over the issues they felt strongest about.

    I’m just over here trying to get your child to enjoy reading. 😜

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I do think of that teacher often because I was probably the kid she least expected to ask such a question. I know she did the best she could and,for a teacher of retirement age, still made things she taught very interesting. Mind you, she also broke at least one pointer a week, slamming it on the desk to keep the rowdier kids in line.

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  2. Oh, you said this so well! What horrific history in this country that shows such pretence of diversity while harbouring despicable secrets. I am ashamed as well. I am, however, proud of your family that let you think for yourself and ask questions. Also, I would have loved to know you when we were nine. I think we would have gotten along really well 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks. It is all so sad and I needed a way to process things and this memory is never far from the surface with me. My parents were pretty hands off when I was little so we had a lot of freedom both physically and mentally to develop. Also, I would have loved having a like-minded friend like you when I was nine.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I attended a religious school and was raised in a house with two completely religions and our parents let us pave our own way. I asked a similar question and got sent down to the principle and ever got the same answer as you. My belief has been and always will be that the Bible is a collection of stories that were passed down by word of mouth until someone wrote them down. There are too many similarities to completely different religions and cultures to believe it all fake. Plus there is archeological evidence of a major flood and the destruction of a city by fire that they believe dates to the time of sodom and Gomorrah. I believe Adam and Eve were not the first people, but the first that oral history was able to name. The first with spoken language. And I believe that since before Adam and Eve or Cain and Abel, man were violent and horrible to each other. Killing has always been the way of man. Unfortunately I don’t think man ever learns from what has happened, and horrible things continue to happen. And the school in Canada is just another example of entitled people (no matter their ethnicity, but it is typically white), believing that their way is best and having no issue killing hundreds of children to get their way. Or allowing hundreds of children to die a year so they don’t have to be bothered to not own a gun anymore. It’s entitlement more than anything. It’s privileged entitlement. And it disgusts me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There are so many options for us to believe or not believe in and like you said there are similarities between many. It would be nice, but will probably never happen for the very reasons you stated, for people to just peacefully respect each other’s beliefs.

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      1. There are some of us who can. Then there are others that don’t. I have seen Christians try to convert Orthodox Jews. I have seen atheists try to convert pastors. Your way isn’t right just because you believe it. Your way is right for you. Just as a religious person does not have the right to tell me whether or not I can use birth control (although they will still try), I do not have the right to require that all religious people dedicate their time to an abortion clinic. Because YOU believe that life starts at this date doesn’t mean that *I* do. And I have the right to make a decision based on my beliefs as you do based on yours. And this insane concept that your way is the only way just separates our species more and makes common ground harder to find. Stop arguing about who has the real G-d, and just accept that you BOTH answer to a higher power (which has freakishly similar rules).

        Liked by 2 people

  4. this is the first I have heard of this tragedy; it is shameful, and I thank you for making people aware of it. like you, I question a lot about religion. I grew up Catholic, but consider myself more of an agnostic at this point…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is a tragedy. I believe I saw a news article where they are going to begin searching the grounds of American residential schools with ground-penetrating radar for unmarked graves as well. We will be hearing a lot more about this in the future.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you for this. I am agnostic, and began questioning religion in elementary school. I reject organized religion — with its manmade dogma, intolerance, and hypocrisy — as a tool of power, wealth, and control. Many of the most hate-filled people can’t wait to hold up a Bible (sometimes upside down, for a photo op, after attacking peaceful protesters of hate) and scream about their so-called “values.” I value love, kindness, tolerance, and service. That’s how I raised my child and how I try to live my life. I don’t need a tax-deductible mega church and a bunch of bullsh*t rules to help me do that. This is a hugely unpopular view in the Black community here in the US, where church plays such an important role.
    Thank you for posting such a well presented piece. Indigenous people have long suffered at the hand of organized religion.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I can see how your views can be unpopular with the black community. Given the history of both blacks and indigenous peoples, I can’t help but wonder why more people don’t question religion. It will be interestingly see how this all plays out over the long run.

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  6. I love this. And your family sounds a lot like mine. Blended, seven kids with four different last names; we went to church a bit when we were younger, but as an adult I’ve outgrown the belief completely. I share your empathy on this topic, even if I’m no longer a part of a religion that entitles itself to certain degrees.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for letting me know. It is a sad topic. One that we all have to come to terms with. Families can be pretty varied these days, but in 1964, mine was pretty unusual, especially in a small community.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I don’t think your teacher was being ‘white-superior’ as it were – I think that you truly did put her on the spot and she had to say that Adam & Eve were ‘first’ something. It’s generally assumed that they were ‘white’ and she had to say they were the first something so she just picked that one out of the air.

    Religion does have a lot to answer for in the violence stakes and my friend Richard says exactly the same as you about Catholicism – that they can do whatever they like so long as they confess afterwards and do a few ‘Hail Marys’ or whatever. It is definitely true!

    I was brought up in religion both by my parents and school but just so that I could then make a choice when I was older. When I got to around 15 or 16, I realised I couldn’t believe in a supreme being/God and so I decided I wasn’t religious – my parents were generally fine with that. I don’t think my mother’s particularly religious anyway – although my Dad got more religion as he got older.

    Having said that, I will go to some church services, e.g. Midnight Mass at Christmas – but that’s because I like the ritual of it – it makes it feel like Christmas to me. Also I love our old traditional church buildings we have over here – some of them date back to times like the 13th century.

    I used to love reading my bible ‘stories’ – I had a ‘Bible in Pictures’ and it was a beautiful book so I really enjoyed reading the tales within – I thought the same way about it all as you though…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your feedback. I agree about the teacher. She needed to say something and those are the words that came to her. But the words in the context of certain situations do say a lot, which is why I referred to them.

      We actually had the story of Jesus in a illustrated format that was like a thick comic book (graphic novel). This was in the 60’s and I read it over and over again when I was a kid. I think it was my mother’s way of giving us a bit of education on the subject. Something to make us more aware.

      I also love the architecture of old churches. They were included in an art history course I took in university.

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  8. This is a fantastic piece of writing and, as others have mentioned, we share the exact same sentiments. I’ve been an atheist since I was first able to objectively analyze the things around me, which happened at a fairly young age. Religion and church-going were major factors in that younger life, not because they meant anything to me, but because my mother and (especially) my grandmother thought it should be so, and therefore I had to participate. I was not impressed, especially with that “Vacation Bible School” mess which meant I had to give up two weeks of my glorious summer sojourn every year.

    On the flip side, this enforced incarceration (Too strong a term? It felt like it to me) in the World of Jesus actually gave me a close-up view of the goings-on which more quickly cemented my aversion to such, a decision that perhaps would not have happened so swiftly if religion had been merely an option in my childhood, not a requirement. So, in that sense, I suppose I should thank Mom and Granny for the incarceration.

    Okay, enough about me. Again, I really enjoyed this reflection. Honesty and truth are so lacking in this world that it tickles my admittedly mildly-bitter heart when I encounter such. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you . Us once quiet kids did a lot of thinking about deep things back then. Vacation Bible School sounds like incarnation to me. Unless, of course, they just read Bible stories all day. Then, because I was a wimp who liked stories, it may have been my idea of heaven. But certainly not for two weeks.

      Liked by 1 person

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